Thursday Reads: Day 1 of Impeachment Hearings and Other News

By Aliza Nisenbaum

Good Morning!!

We finally got the first day of impeachment hearings yesterday, with more to come on Friday and next week. Republicans claim it was all so booooring.  No one could watch these and stay awake.

Funny, Kellyanne’s husband George Conway didn’t seem to agree. He spent yesterday on MSNBC arguing in favor of impeaching and removing Trump.

Eric Wemple at The Washington Post: ‘I’m horrified. I’m appalled’: George Conway takes Trump-bashing mind to MSNBC.

Conway brought his pro-impeachment views to MSNBC on Wednesday morning. Asked about what constitutes an impeachable offense, Conway — who bailed on the Republican Party last year — offered the following:

That goes to the very heart of what a high crime and misdemeanor is. I mean, there are two ways to look at it: The first — the way I prefer to look at it — is the holistic view, and the holistic view is that when you become president, you raise your right hand and you swear to faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and also the Constitution provides and uses that word, those words “faithfully execute,” in reference to faithfully execute the laws. And when you take on that duty — and the framers really took oaths seriously — you are promising to take that awesome power that’s being thrust upon you and use it for the nation’s benefit and not for your own benefit. And the problem with Donald Trump is, he always sees himself first.

It just so happens, noted Conway, that in the case of Ukraine, President Trump used the “most unchecked” power of the presidency — foreign policy, that is — to “advance his own personal interests as opposed to the country’s.” As several witnesses have claimed in closed and open House depositions, Trump and his associates attempted to condition military aid and an Oval Office meeting on the Ukrainian president’s announcement of an investigation into former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

As for why some folks can’t see the abuses of power, Conway need look no further than another cable-news channel — one where his sentiments might be a bit less welcome. “I’m horrified. I’m appalled,” said Conway about the Republican response to Trump’s misdeeds.

Lois Rossbach Ellis (American; born 1925), 1953

Actually, there was an unexpected bombshell in Wednesday’s testimony. Ambassador Bill Taylor revealed that a member of his staff overheard Trump asking about the “investigations” he was pressuring Ukraine to undertake when EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland called Trump on a cell phone in a Ukrainian restaurant. The call took place on July 26, one day after Trump’s infamous phone call to Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky.

The Washington Post: Ambassador’s cellphone call to Trump from Kyiv restaurant was a stunning breach of security, former officials say.

A U.S. ambassador’s cellphone call to President Trump from a restaurant in the capital of Ukraine this summer was a stunning breach of security, exposing the conversation to surveillance by foreign intelligence services, including Russia’s, former U.S. officials said.

The call — in which Trump’s remarks were overheard by a U.S. Embassy staffer in Kyiv — was disclosed Wednesday by the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, William B. Taylor Jr., on the dramatic opening day of public impeachment hearings into alleged abuse of power by the president.

“The member of my staff could hear President Trump on the phone” asking U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland about “the investigations,” Taylor testified, referring to the president’s desire for a probe of the son of Trump’s potential political opponent in 2020, Joe Biden, and the Ukrainian energy company on whose board Hunter Biden once served.

Sondland, Taylor said, told Trump in that conversation that “the Ukrainians were ready to move forward” on the investigations.

The U.S. Embassy staffer who overheard the call, political counselor David Holmes, is scheduled to testify Friday before House impeachment investigators in a closed session.

Paritosh Sen, Woman Reading a Newspaper

After the call ended Holmes asked Sondland how Trump felt about Ukraine. Sondland replied that Trump cared more about investigating Biden than helping Ukraine.

More from the Post on the security implications of the call:

“The security ramifications are insane — using an open cellphone to communicate with the president of the United States,” said Larry Pfeiffer, a former senior director of the White House Situation Room and a former chief of staff to the CIA director. “In a country that is so wired with Russian intelligence, you can almost take it to the bank that the Russians were listening in on the call.” [….]

It was also noteworthy in that ambassadors typically don’t just pick up the phone and call presidents. “They never do so to discuss Ukraine policy,” former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul said in a tweet. “Doing so on a cellphone from Kyiv means [the] whole world was listening in.”

Mediaite reports that, according to Watergate alum John Dean, First Day of Trump Hearings Yielded More Damning Testimony Than All of Watergate.

Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean characterized the first day of public impeachment testimony against President Donald Trump as both thorough and damning, saying House Democrats “already have more than they had against Richard Nixon to impeach him. Just on all accounts….

“John, I mean, given what you saw today, did this move the needle for any Republican senators who are watching?” CNN host Anderson Cooper asked Dean.

“There’s a conspiracy, we know from what’s come out of the executive sessions, generally, where this is going,” Dean said. “What struck me today in listening to these two witnesses is they already have more than they had against Richard Nixon to impeach him. Just on all accounts.”

“Why do you say that?” asked fellow panelist, CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

Eda Sterchi, Portrait of a woman reading a newspaper

“Because the evidence is there,” Dean responded. “It was my testimony, a few people that were lower in the pecking order than me, and it happened before the tapes.”

Unlike the already released call summary where Trump is seen soliciting an investigation into his potential political rival, the blockbuster revelation that a White House taping system existed only came out weeks after Dean’s testimony in June 1973. The subsequent legal fight by the Nixon White House to prevent releasing the tapes to Congress became another impeachable offense and the infamous 18-and-a-half-minute gap on a tape where Nixon discussed the Watergate break-in became a key piece of evidence proving the Nixon cover-up.

Meanwhile, Republicans have conspiracy theories. Yesterday at Buzzfeed News: The Witnesses At Today’s Impeachment Hearing Weren’t Trying To Evade Republicans’ Questions. They Couldn’t Understand Them.

From the very first questions that Republicans asked in the first public hearing in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump on Wednesday, it was clear that a core part of the proceedings will not be about determining whether the president committed an impeachable offense. Instead, it will be an example of the damage that years of right-wing misinformation has done to the highest levels of the country’s political system.

Many of the questions from the House Intelligence Committee left Bill Taylor, the acting ambassador to Ukraine, and George Kent, a senior state department official, in disoriented silence.

In their opening statements, both Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chair of the Intelligence Committee, and the committee’s vice chair, Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, brought up elements of the prominent, but baseless, CrowdStrike conspiracy theory that a cybersecurity firm attempted to cover up evidence that Ukraine tried to meddle in the 2016 presidential election. Whereas Schiff’s questions seemed framed to establish that Trump and his allies spent years chasing rumors, Nunes and the other Republicans on the Intelligence Committee staked much of their time on nonsense yanked from conservative Facebook groups and hyperpartisan news sites.

Anthony Watkins, Sunday News

“Trump then requested that Zelensky investigate a discredited 2016 CrowdStrike conspiracy theory and, even more ominously, look into the Bidens,” Schiff said. “Neither of these investigations was in the US national interest.”

“This is a carefully orchestrated media smear campaign,” Nunes said. “Now they accuse Trump of malfeasance in Ukraine, when they themselves are culpable.”

There is one America that believes what was in former FBI director Robert Mueller’s report, that there was coordinated Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, which helped the Trump campaign. But there is a second America that believes that in the summer of 2016, the Democratic National Committee colluded with Ukrainian nationals to frame the Trump campaign for collusion with Russia, implicating a Ukrainian American DNC contractor, Alexandra Chalupa, in the collusion and the California-based cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike in the subsequent cover-up.

The impeachment inquiry has also revealed the vast damage that Trump has done to U.S. diplomacy.

Joshua J. Geltzer at The Atlantic: The System Was Blinking Red.

Those who listened to the first day of public impeachment hearings, focused on Ukraine-related matters, heard a lot about Donald Trump and a lot about Rudy Giuliani. And for good reason: Both were central players in the White House–driven push to trade American weapons and a meeting at the White House for Ukraine’s help with Trump’s reelection.

But listeners also heard a lot about long-serving U.S. government officials, including the two witnesses who testified, and how they reacted to the push led by Trump and Giuliani. What might have gotten lost in the day’s testimony is that these more ordinary officials were doing extraordinary things. Those included repeated threats to resign and repeated referrals to lawyers of possible violations of U.S. law by U.S. officials. This is not normal—not normal behavior by public servants, not normal disagreement within the policy-making process, not normal at all. To the contrary, this is a sign that inside the U.S. government, Trump’s improper bullying of Ukraine was setting off alarms—and the system was blinking red.

Miki de Goodaboom, woman Reading a Newspaper

Start with the multiple threats of resignation that Ambassador William Taylor, America’s top diplomat in Ukraine, indicated he’d made with utter sincerity (an indication confirmed by the written record). Threats of resignation by government officials—especially officials like Taylor, with decades of service to presidents of both political parties—are extremely rare. Given how dramatic a threat of resignation is, and given how frequent such resignations have been under the Trump administration, it’s important to remember that this isn’t, say, an ordinary negotiating tactic for government officials as they jostle with colleagues in formulating policy. Quite the opposite—this is the ultimate card to play, and most government officials go through their entire careers without ever considering it. (I never played it while I served in government!) [….]

And it wasn’t just the policy process’s breakdown that was clear to U.S. government officials seeing this all unfold; it was adherence to the law as well. The first day of testimony confirmed earlier reporting that U.S. government officials who realized the nature of the White House’s Ukraine push repeatedly asked that White House national-security lawyers be notified out of concern that matters were headed seriously, even dangerously, awry. That, too, is not normal—not even close to it.

Read the rest at The Atlantic.

The Daily Beast: Revealed: The Pro-Trump Playbook for Smearing U.S. Diplomats.

Foreign governments have settled on a new strategy to sideline American officials they don’t like: peddling conspiratorial dirt on those officials to portray them as enemies of President Donald Trump.

The impeachment inquiry has revealed the success of that strategy in Ukraine, where ethically dubious officials teamed up with Trump’s personal attorney to remove a U.S. ambassador. A Hungarian government-backed campaign against a top National Security Council official was less successful, though not for a lack of effort. And according to senior U.S. officials, the same strategy succeeded in scuttling a nominee to be America’s top diplomat in Albania.

Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that John Solomon, one of Rudy Giuliani’s favorite conservative columnists and conspiracy-peddlers, makes an appearance in both the Ukraine and Albanian dramas.

Woman in black reading a newspaper, Rik Wouters (1882-1916), painted in 1912.

“We have permitted open season on our diplomats,” declared Fiona Hill, a former senior Trump White House national security official, during her closed-door testimony to the impeachment inquiry. “Any one of us here could be subject to this kind of claims and these kinds of attacks, any single person who gets crosswise with any of these individuals or any of these countries, if they think that any of us are in the way.”

The attacks frequently invoke George Soros, the right-wing bogeyman and Fox News primetime fixture. And they appear tailor-made to Trump’s idiosyncratic sensibilities, focusing on issues and controversies that tend to grab the attention of right-wing media—and, by extension, the president himself. The strategies also bear the hallmarks of the surreptitious campaign to undermine U.S. diplomats in Ukraine by people close to the president, chiefly hRis personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.

Read the rest at the link.

More stories to check out:

Renato Mariotti at Politico: Impeachment Is Not a Fair Fight, and on Day One It Showed.

John Harris at Politico Magazine: Trump Exposed: A Brutal Day for the President.

The New York Times: As Talks With Putin Loom, Ukraine Looks in Vain for U.S. Help.

Slate: The Seven Ways Wednesday’s Hearing Clarified Trump’s Real Motives.

Axios: Erdogan upends Oval meeting to play anti-Kurd film on iPad.

The New York Times: Erdogan Hands ‘Tough Guy’ Letter Back to Trump.

The Washington Post: Leaked Stephen Miller emails show Trump’s point man on immigration promoted white nationalism, SPLC reports.

NBC News: Democrats call for Stephen Miller to resign after leak of xenophobic emails.

CBS News: Michael Bloomberg won’t file for New Hampshire primary.

The New York Times: Michael Bloomberg Has a History of Demeaning Comments About Women.

FiveThirtyEight: Why Deval Patrick Is Making A Late Bid For The Democratic Nomination.

CNN: Exclusive: Trump DC hotel sales pitch boasts of millions to be made from foreign governments.

 


Lazy Caturday Reads: Lighter Stories for a Dark Time

By Didier Lourenco

Good Morning!!

I hope all you Sky Dancers are having a nice weekend! I’m going to stick with lightweight stories today, because I’ve been feeling so discouraged by the political news. So here goes.

You know that impenetrable wall that Trump is trying build on our Southern border? It’s not working out so well. The Washington Post: Smugglers are sawing through new sections of Trump’s border wall.

SAN DIEGO — Smuggling gangs in Mexico have repeatedly sawed through new sections of President Trump’s border wall in recent months by using commercially available power tools, opening gaps large enough for people and drug loads to pass through, according to U.S. agents and officials with knowledge of the damage.

The breaches have been made using a popular cordless household tool known as a reciprocating saw that retails at hardware stores for as little as $100. When fitted with specialized blades, the saws can slice through one of the barrier’s steel-and-concrete bollards in a matter of minutes, according to the agents, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the barrier-defeating techniques.

By Nastya Ozozo

After cutting through the base of a single bollard, smugglers can push the steel out of the way, allowing an adult to fit through the gap. Because the bollards are so tall — and are attached only to a panel at the very top — their length makes them easier to push aside once they have been cut and are left dangling, according to engineers consulted by The Washington Post….

Trump has increasingly boasted to crowds in recent weeks about the superlative properties of the barrier, calling it “virtually impenetrable” and likening the structure to a “Rolls-Royce” that border-crossers cannot get over, under or through.

Hahahahaha!! A bit more:

The smuggling crews have been using other techniques, such as building makeshift ladders to scale and overtop the barriers, especially in the popular smuggling areas in and around San Diego, according to nearly a dozen U.S. agents and current and former administration officials….

The U.S. government has not disclosed the cutting incidents and breaches, and it is unclear how many times they have occurred. U.S. Customs and Border Protection declined to provide information about the number of breaches, the location of the incidents and the process for repairing them. Matt Leas, a spokesman for the agency, declined to comment, and CBP has not yet fulfilled a Freedom of Information Act request seeking data about the breaches and repairs. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees the private contractors building the barrier, referred inquires to CBP….

In the San Diego area, smugglers have figured out how to cut the bollards and return them to their original positions, disguising the breaches in the hope that they will go unnoticed and can be reused for repeated passage. Agents said they have learned to drive along the base of the structure looking for subtle defects, testing the metal by kicking the bollards with their boots.

Kazuaki Horitomo, tattooed cats

If damage is detected, welding crews are promptly sent to make fixes. The smugglers, however, have returned to the same bollards and cut through the welds, agents say, because the metal is softer and the concrete at the core of the bollard already has been compromised. The smugglers also have tried to trick agents by applying a type of putty with a color and texture that resembles a weld, making a severed bollard appear intact.

I guess it’s not so funny when you think about what a waste of taxpayer money this boondoggle is.

Also at The Washington Post, yesterday Alexandra Petri had a little fun with Trump’s announcement that he’s now a Florida resident: ‘Why I’m Leaving New York,’ by Donald Trump. A sample:

I did not leave for a long while because I was in love with New York. I do not mean love in the gross way you feel inside that makes you weak. I mean love like, the city begged and pleaded with me, the city wanted to give me everything, they would catch and kill the bad stories for me. Here I was in Manhattan.

I remember when my publicist and I first moved to Manhattan. We needed new faces. All the old faces of contractors were upset, they whined and sobbed, they said, pay me, pay me, please. But I didn’t pay them. New York was a wonderful place, a brass jungle where dreams were made of, where you did not have to pay the people who built the dreams.

But the city changed. They say I changed, but you know. I remember. One morning I woke up and something was different. There was a time when there were so many mobsters in my office that I worried about inviting cameras in to film the first season of “The Apprentice.” Where everything was brass, or at least brazen. When the smell of graft rose up from the whatever the river is called, and it was a good place to have a family, to not change your kids’ diapers in. Did the city change, or did I, or did the tax rate, or did the ongoing prosecution by the SDNY?

By Will Barnet, American, 1911-2012

So I said, should I leave? And the people cried.

A man came up to me on the street, he said, “Sir, you can’t leave, you can’t leave New York!” And he was crying. He said, “It’s going to be carnage if you leave, sir, it’s going to be bloody, painful carnage.” And I said, “I know, believe me, it’s going to be bad, but I have to do it! What can I say? They don’t tax you so good here in New York City. They don’t treat you very nice.” I said, “Maybe treat me nice, and I will stay.” But they didn’t treat me nice, and now I have to go.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

At The New York Times, Peter Baker and Eric Schmitt analyze Trump’s insane storytelling about the killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi:

It was a vivid scene worthy of the ending of a Hollywood thriller, the image of a ruthless terrorist mastermind finally brought to justice “whimpering and crying and screaming all the way” to his death. But it may be no more true than a movie script.

In the days since President Trump gave the world a graphic account of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s last minutes, no evidence has emerged to confirm it. The secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the regional commander who oversaw the operation that killed the leader of the Islamic State all say they have no idea what the president was talking about.

Four other Defense Department officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to share details of the raid, said they had seen no after-action reports, situation reports or other communications that support Mr. Trump’s claim. Nor did they have any indication that Mr. Trump spoke with any of the Delta Force commandos or ground commanders in the hours between the Saturday night raid and his Sunday morning televised announcement.

One American official who was deeply familiar with the operation dismissed the president’s version of events as mere grandstanding. Another senior official briefed extensively on the mission said, “I don’t know how he would know that. It sounds like something he made up.” The surveillance drone video Mr. Trump watched in the Situation Room had no live audio.

‘Hallowed Cat’ by Nicola Slattery

But we’re so used to Trump’s constant exaggerations and lies that no one seems to care.

That Mr. Trump seems to have made up the scene of a whimpering terrorist may be shocking on one level yet not all that surprising from a president who over the years has made a habit of inventing people who do not exist and events that did not happen. Mr. Trump’s flexibility with fact has become such an established feature of his presidency that polls show most Americans, including even many of his own supporters, do not, as a rule, take him at his word.

What may be most telling about the episode is how little attention the disparity of details received. In the past, presidential words were scrutinized with forensic exactitude and any variance from the established record could do lasting political damage. In the era of Trumpian truth, misstatements and lies are washed away by the next story, prompting Pinocchios from fact checkers and scolding from Democrats and Never Trumpers while Republicans dismiss them with that’s-just-Trump-being-Trump weariness.

“Donald Trump is not simply a serial liar; he is attempting to murder the very idea of truth, which is even worse,” said Peter Wehner, a former strategic adviser to President George W. Bush and an outspoken critic of Mr. Trump. “Because without truth, a free society cannot operate.”

Emphasis added.

The New York Times has three stories today analyzing Trump’s Twitter feed and the power of its influence. Here’s the main one: In Trump’s Twitter Feed: Conspiracy-Mongers, Racists and Spies.

Mr. Trump, whose own tweets have warned of deep-state plots against him, accused the House speaker of treason and labeled Republican critics “human scum,” has helped spread a culture of suspicion and distrust of facts into the political mainstream.

The president is also awash in an often toxic torrent that sluices into his Twitter account — roughly 1,000 tweets per minute, many intended for his eyes. Tweets that tag his handle, @realDonaldTrump, can be found with hashtags like #HitlerDidNothingWrong, #IslamIsSatanism and #WhiteGenocide. While filters can block offensive material, the president clearly sees some of it, because he dips into the frothing currents and serves up noxious bits to the rest of the world.

By Kelly Beeman

By retweeting suspect accounts, seemingly without regard for their identity or motives, he has lent credibility to white nationalists, anti-Muslim bigots and obscure QAnon adherents like VB Nationalist, an anonymous account that has promoted a hoax about top Democrats worshiping the Devil and engaging in child sex trafficking….

The New York Times examined Mr. Trump’s interactions with Twitter since he took office, reviewing each of his more than 11,000 tweets and the hundreds of accounts he has retweeted, tracking the ways he is exposed to information and replicating what he is likely to see on the platform. The result, including new data analysis and previously unreported details, offers the most comprehensive view yet of a virtual world in which the president spends significant time mingling with extremists, impostors and spies.

Fake accounts tied to intelligence services in China, Iran and Russia had directed thousands of tweets at Mr. Trump, according to a Times analysis of propaganda accounts suspended by Twitter. Iranian operatives tweeted anti-Semitic tropes, saying that Mr. Trump was “being controlled” by global Zionists, and that pulling out of the Iran nuclear treaty would benefit North Korea. Russian accounts tagged the president more than 30,000 times, including in supportive tweets about the Mexican border wall and his hectoring of black football players. Mr. Trump even retweeted a phony Russian account that said, “We love you, Mr. President!”

In fact, Mr. Trump has retweeted at least 145 unverified accounts that have pushed conspiracy or fringe content, including more than two dozen that have since been suspended by Twitter. Tinfoil-hat types and racists celebrate when Mr. Trump shares something they promote. After he tweeted his support for white farmers in South Africa, replies included “DONALD IS KING!” and “No black man can develop land.”

Read the analyses at the NYT.

Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread. I hope you’re enjoying a great Fall weekend!


Tuesday Reads: Climate Change Action and Impeachment Inquiry News

Good Morning!!

Action on Climate Change

Before I get started on the latest news, I want to share some information about a climate action that is taking place today in several U.S. cities, including Boston. My sister-in-law is a leader in her local chapter of Mothers Out Front, an organization that fights climate change. The group has been working to call attention to Blackrock, a huge asset management corporation whose CEO Larry Fink has tried to position himself as pro-environment, while leading the company that contributes more than any other to the problem of global warming.

My brother made this video to publicize today’s actions.

Some background:

The Guardian, May 21, 2019: World’s biggest investor accused of dragging feet on climate crisis.

[Blackrock CEO Larry] Fink, who was paid $24m (£18.8m) in 2018, began BlackRock as part of Blackstone, the world’s largest private equity group, and spun it out in 1995. Since then, New York-based BlackRock has risen to become an investing behemoth, controlling $6.5tn in assets – a value more than twice the annual output of the UK economy.

That staggering size has placed BlackRock at the heart of the global fossil fuel industry: it is the largest investor in coal worldwide, according to InfluenceMap, an environmental campaign group, and has by far the highest density of coal holdings of the world’s 10 largest investors. BlackRock effectively owns 2.1bn tonnes of thermal coal reserves, based on the size of its stakes in major miners.

In August, two of the country’s fastest growing grassroots groups – Extinction Rebellion and Mothers Out Front – sent a bold message to BlackRock staff at their Boston office.

BlackRock is counted among the top three shareholders in every oil “supermajor” bar France’s Total, and is among the top 10 shareholders in seven of the 10 biggest coal producers, according to Guardian analysis of data from financial information firm S&P.

Yet Fink, 66, who moves in US Democrat political circles, argues it is not his company’s duty to fight the climate emergency. In the real version of his annual letter to shareholders, published in January, Fink said that his overriding duty is to make customers money.

“Our firm is built to protect and grow the value of our clients’ assets,” Fink wrote. “We often get approached by special interest groups who advocate for BlackRock to vote with them on a cause. In many cases, I or other senior managers might agree with that same cause – or we might strongly disagree – but our personal views on environmental or social issues don’t matter here. Our decisions are driven solely by our fiduciary duty to our clients.”

Also from The Guardian, September 17, 2019: Wall Street investment giants voting against key climate resolutions.

Some of Wall Street’s largest asset management companies are failing to live up to commitments to use their voting power to fight the climate crisis, according to a new report.

The report, published on Tuesday by the Washington DC-based Majority Action and the Climate Majority Project, claims that BlackRock Inc, the world’s largest asset manager with more than $6tn under management, and Vanguard, with assets of $5.2tn, have voted overwhelmingly against the key climate resolutions at energy companies, including a resolution at ExxonMobil’s annual shareholder meeting, and at Duke Energy.

Had BlackRock and Vanguard not torpedoed these investor efforts, at least 16 climate-critical shareholder resolutions at S&P 500 companies would have received majority support in 2019, representing a significant corporate shift on climate, the report claims….

“The climate crisis is well upon us, and leading investors are stepping up to press fossil-fuel-dependent companies to align their strategies to the goals of the Paris agreement but some of the largest US investment companies are severely lagging,” said Majority Action’s Eli Kasargod-Staub.

“Blackrock and Vanguard have been using their shareholder voting power to undermine, rather than support, investor action on climate, including opposing every one of the resolutions proposed by the $34tn Climate Action 100+ coalition, calling for significant board room reform in response to its failure to act on climate change,” Kasargod-Staub added.

Unfortunately, it’s raining in Boston today. I expect the mothers will still show up for the demonstration though. I’ll report back if I hear anything about how it went.

UPDATES from the Boston BlackRock protest

Impeachment Inquiry News

Today a White House insider who heard Trump’s call to Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky will testify in the impeachment inquiry.

The New York Times: Army Officer Who Heard Trump’s Ukraine Call Reported Concerns.

A White House national security official who is a decorated Iraq war veteran plans to tell House impeachment investigators on Tuesday that he heard President Trump appeal to Ukraine’s president to investigate one of his leading political rivals, a request the aide considered so damaging to American interests that he reported it to a superior.

Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, arriving Tuesday on Capitol Hill.Credit…Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times

Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman of the Army, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, twice registered internal objections about how Mr. Trump and his inner circle were treating Ukraine, out of what he called a “sense of duty,” he plans to tell the inquiry, according to a draft of his opening statement obtained by The New York Times.

He will be the first White House official to testify who listened in on the July 25 telephone call between Mr. Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine that is at the center of the impeachment inquiry, in which Mr. Trump asked Mr. Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

“I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine,” Colonel Vindman said in his statement. “I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained.”


Lazy Caturday Reads: 2020 and Impeachment

Good Morning!!

It’s looking like the media has successfully erased Kamala Harris’ candidacy, but yesterday Trump gave her a publicity boost. Trump was inexplicably given an award at a traditionally Black college in South Carolina, but only 10 students were invited to attend the forum, which was filled with Trump supporters.

Greenville News: President Trump addresses political allies as Benedict students are asked to stay in dorms.

COLUMBIA – In a way, what happened outside Benedict College’s gates in the heart of downtown felt quite small. At its peak, the crowd covered less than 100 yards of the sidewalk. But the scene itself represented something much bigger: the fractured, divisive, sometimes ugly and often loud American political climate.

Protests were mounted outside the 150-year-old historically black college where inside a school auditorium President Donald Trump spoke to a room filled with more political allies than students.

The event was billed as a keynote speech on bipartisan success in criminal justice reform, which the president tied to a booming economy that he told his audience has helped black people more than ever before.

Benedict students — some of whom pondered the week prior what questions they might ask the president once his surprise visit to the weekend-long “2019 Second Step Presidential Justice Forum” was announced — were asked to stay in their dorms.

Seven students were allowed inside for the speech….

The announcement that Trump would join came late and to the surprise of those participating in the forum. The original announcement of the event highlighted only that Democratic candidates were participating.

When Kamala Harris learned about Trump’s appearance she cancelled her own visit to Benedict College.

Trump attacked Harris for this on Twitter and this morning she responded.

I know it’s unlikely Americans are ready for Black woman as the Democratic nominee, but I continue to admire this woman greatly and I believe she will continue make a difference in the years to come.

Greenville News: Kamala Harris backs out of Benedict forum after Trump receives award on visit to SC.

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris has withdrawn from participating in the Second Step Presidential Justice Forum today at Benedict College after learning President Donald Trump received an award at the forum on Friday.

Harris, the junior senator from California, was due to speak at the event at the historically black college alongside fellow 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls, but she posted a message on Twitter announcing her withdrawal less than 24 hours before she was scheduled to speak.

She cited the Bipartisan Justice Award that the president received and event organization that left only nine Benedict students to be invited, only seven of whom were able to attend according to a school spokesperson.

“I won’t be complicit in papering over Trump’s record,” Harris tweeted in part before announcing she’ll instead take part in a panel at Benedict College’s Antisdel Chapel with Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin.

Joe Biden is still leading in most polls, but he has been struggling to raise money for his campaign.

Politico: Why Biden is getting crushed in the all-important money race.

Joe Biden’s campaign is drawing more support from big-ticket donors than any other candidate in the race — yet he still can’t match his rivals’ cash flow.

Biden has raised $20.7 million from contributions of at least $500 — $1.5 million more than his nearest competitor, despite entering the race later than all of them — thanks to the former vice president’s strong connections and goodwill among the traditional donors who have long financed the Democratic Party. Biden drew donations from 114 former big money fundraisers for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the third quarter, the most of any Democrat, according to a POLITICO analysis.

But it’s been nowhere near enough to make Biden the leader of the fundraising pack. In fact, his big-dollar dominance, and his reliance on those donors, is more evidence of how quickly small-dollar donations have become the most important component of political fundraising in a sprawling, fractured Democratic race. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg are all outraising Biden, and stockpiling cash significantly faster than him, on the back of major support from online donors that Biden has been unable to build.

Biden is spending too much time holding big money fundraisers and not enough time campaigning. A bit more:

The bundler contributions and connections are helping keep Biden’s campaign afloat, but some of those donors are cringing at the way Biden is running his campaign.

“I don’t think Joe Biden is going to be the nominee,” said one major fundraiser, who said he gave to Biden out of loyalty during the third quarter. “I think there’s a thirst for something down the road taking us towards something bigger and better. That’s not going to be Joe Biden, for whom I have the utmost respect. He is acting his age and showing his age.”

Much more at the Politico link. Yesterday Biden approved formation of a super pac. Politico: Biden throws his campaign a lifeline.

By reversing course and dropping his opposition to super PACs, Joe Biden has all but admitted he’s getting swamped in fundraising.

But it was a strategic retreat that could end up paying big dividends for his cash-starved campaign.

Calls to a half-dozen maxed-out Biden donors Friday revealed that they would gladly dig deeper for the former vice president and contribute to a super PAC that enables them — and corporations — to give and spend unlimited amounts of money.

The witching hour by Lisa Parker

“Joe Biden has not raised as much money as the others through his own campaign efforts. But you have to understand, that’s basically how it works. Bernie Sanders had, what, 20,000 people at an event in New York? Suppose each one of those people gave $100,” said Joe Cotchett, a major Bay Area bundler for Biden. “Does Joe have the ability to have 20,000 people at a rally right now? The answer is no. But hopefully for Joe, it will come.”

Harold Schaitberger, head of the International Association of Fire Fighters, which has already endorsed Biden, said it would likely commit to a Biden super PAC.

“We would be in a position to support that effort,” said Schaitberger. “We’re certainly capable of spending in the six figures.

We’ll see. I still don’t think Biden will win the nomination, but at this point, I’ve stopped caring. I’ll vote for Kamala if she’s still around on Super Tuesday, and I’ll hold my nose and vote for whoever the Dems nominate. I don’t think we’ll beat Trump in an election. He has to be impeached and removed or forced to resign. There’s no evidence right now that the 2020 election will be legitimate.

Another problem for Biden is the drip drip drip about his son Hunter. If he is the nominee, the Republicans will talk about Hunter non-stop, and it won’t matter if he did anything illegal. He certainly traded on his father’s name. The latest from The New York Times: Giuliani Is Drawing Attention to Hunter Biden’s Work in Romania. But There’s a Problem.

Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer, signaled this month that he planned to open a new front in his attacks against former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. — work done by Mr. Biden’s son Hunter Biden for a wealthy Romanian business executive facing corruption charges.

But there’s a problem with that strategy: Mr. Giuliani participated in an effort that would have helped the same executive, and was in fact recruited to do so by Louis J. Freeh, a former F.B.I. director who had been brought onto the matter by Hunter Biden.

In effect, Mr. Giuliani and Hunter Biden were on the same team, if not at the same time. And their work to help the business executive, along with that of Mr. Freeh, stood in contrast to efforts by the United States, including Vice President Biden while he was in office, to encourage anti-corruption efforts in Romania.

The dynamic in Romania underscores how Mr. Giuliani has done a brisk international business with clients who sometimes seem to be seeking to capitalize on his connections to Mr. Trump even as he has accused Hunter Biden of seeking to capitalize on his father’s name while doing business in other countries. And the disclosure of the connection between his role in Romania and Mr. Biden’s comes at a time when Mr. Giuliani, the former New York mayor, is under investigation by federal prosecutors in New York for possible violations of foreign lobbying laws.

Trump will bash Hunter unmercifully if Biden is the nominee and it won’t matter that Trump is far more corrupt and that his own children are raking in millions through his presidency. The media doesn’t focus on Trump’s nepotism now and they likely won’t in 2020. The focus will be on “both sides,” and pretending that Joe and Hunter’s questionable ethics or, even worse, Elizabeth Warren’s long history of claiming Native American ancestry. It will be the new “her emails.”

I’m sorry to sound so negative today. It’s still a long time until the primaries begin, but it’s not looking good right now. The good news is that the Impeachment inquiry is going full speed ahead.

Catbatting by Maggie Vandewalle

The New York Times: Impeachment Inquiry Is Legal, Judge Rules, Giving Democrats a Victory.

A federal judge handed a victory to House Democrats on Friday when she ruled that they were legally engaged in an impeachment inquiry, a decision that undercut President Trump’s arguments that the investigation is a sham.

The declaration came in a 75-page opinion by Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell of the Federal District Court in Washington. She ruled that the House Judiciary Committee was entitled to view secret grand jury evidence gathered by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.

Typically, Congress has no right to view such evidence. But in 1974, the courts permitted lawmakers to see such materials as they weighed whether to impeach President Richard M. Nixon. The House is now immersed in the same process focused on Mr. Trump, Judge Howell ruled, and that easily outweighs any need to keep the information secret from lawmakers.

And in a rebuke to the Trump administration, she wrote that the White House strategy to stonewall the House had actually strengthened lawmakers’ case. She cited Mr. Trump’s vow to fight “all” congressional subpoenas and an extraordinary directive by his White House counsel, Pat A. Cipollone, that executive branch officials should not provide testimony or documents to impeachment investigators.

“The White House’s stated policy of noncooperation with the impeachment inquiry weighs heavily in favor of disclosure,” Judge Howell wrote. “Congress’s need to access grand jury material relevant to potential impeachable conduct by a president is heightened when the executive branch willfully obstructs channels for accessing other relevant evidence.”

Of course we don’t know what the right-wing SCOTUS will ultimately decide.

One more interesting piece from Just Security: George Washington’s Advisors Agreed: Impeachment Did Away with Executive Privilege.

President George Washington’s decision to withhold diplomatic papers from the House of Representatives with respect to the Jay Treaty has become an important precedent in current debates over executive privilege. Earlier this month, the White House Counsel’s Office invoked this precedent as its first cited source in claiming executive privilege with respect to the scope of the testimony of Fiona Hill, the former top Russia advisor on the National Security Council. And as the Ukraine affair first came to light and impeachment entered the discussion, John Yoo, writing for the New York Times, cited this precedent as a major stumbling block that would thwart any impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump’s abuse of his diplomatic powers.

But as one of us pointed out in a recent post for Just Security, Washington clearly signaled that executive privilege would not be available if the House were pursuing an impeachment inquiry. In withholding the papers, he wrote that

“It does not occur that the inspection of the papers asked for can be relative to any purpose under the cognizance of the House of Representatives, except that of an impeachment, which the resolution [requesting the papers] has not expressed.”

(Judge Naomi Rao recently quoted this language in drawing a distinction between the information that Congress can access in an impeachment proceedings as opposed to lawmaking in a dissent.)

Earlier this week, we published an op-ed, highlighting this and other evidence from the Founding era and discussed its significance for current events. While writing, we were impressed by just how unanimous Washington’s advisors were on an impeachment carve-out to executive privilege. Here are some key quotes (with emphasis added), from Washington’s Cabinet (whose advice he had requested) and several others…

Read the rest at the link. Maybe the courts will save us yet–if Chief Justice Roberts can bring himself to care about the Constitution more than partisanship.

I’ll add more links in the comment thread. What stories have you been following?


Thursday Reads: The Walls Are Closing In

Edvard Munch, Cabbage Field, 1915

Good Afternoon!!

Another psychiatrist’s tweets on Trump’s ailing brain caught the attention of Newsweek’s Shane Croucher: Trump’s “Mental Impairment Means He Cannot Think Strategically or in Abstract Terms,” Claims Professor of psychiatry.

“Trump has no policy on any issue because his mental impairment means he cannot think strategically or in abstract terms,” tweeted John M. Talmadge, MD, a physician and clinical professor of psychiatry at U.T. Southwestern Medical Center.

“He cannot weigh options, assess risk, or foresee consequences. Concepts like fairness, justice, honor, and integrity quite literally do not register. You can see this in every interview or press encounter. He never states an abstract thought or idea.

Man in a cabbage field, 1916, Edvard Munch

“Instead he falls back on simple adjectives: disgraceful, horrible, low-intelligence, perfect, innocent, nasty, stupid, fake, etc. He’s driven by negative emotion, often paranoid and often insulting, vulgar, vitriolic.”

Talmadge wrote that Trump expresses positivity in a “shallow tone” using “childish adjectives” and is non-specific when discussing plans or projects.

“The meaning of this is clear. Trump does not have a vision or a plan, because he can think only in concrete, elementary, childlike, one dimensional terms. He does not process an abstract idea like American forces stabilizing a multilateral conflict with geopolitical implications,” Talmadge wrote.

“This Trumpian brain failure is hard for normal people to understand because for normal people, abstract thought is natural, baked in, largely unnoticed. Normal people see the consequences, assess risk, make rational decisions most of the time.

“What is true today is that Trump is not normal, Trump is mentally impaired, Trump cannot think normally, and Trump is dangerous. When he is removed from office he literally will not understand what happened. He will have to make up a story, tell lies, and rant about Hillary’s DNC server.”

I’ve been following Talmadge for awhile. He refers to Trump’s cognitive deficit as “presidementia.”

Trump tweeted this morning that he was joking, but he clearly wasn’t and what he said wasn’t the least bit humorous.

What an embarrassment he is! He just opens his deformed mouth and spews out whatever his brain coughs up in the moment. And the idiots in the audience actually cheered his nonsense. This is our reality now.

To defend their cognitively impaired “president,” Republicans, led by drunk driver Matt Gaetz, staged a moronic “protest” of what they claimed are “secret” impeachment depositions that large numbers of GOP members are free to–and do–attend. One of those GOP attendees is Mike Pence’s brother! Buzzfeed:

As dozens of House members in charge of the impeachment investigations sit in on closed-door depositions about Ukraine, at least one person in the room has unusually close ties to President Donald Trump’s administration — Vice President Mike Pence’s older brother, Rep. Greg Pence.

Edvard Munch, Landscape with train smoke

The first-term member of Congress sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, one of three House committees leading the impeachment investigation (along with the House Intelligence and Oversight committees). He was assigned to the committee earlier this year by members of the Republican House Steering and Policy committees, long before the impeachment inquiry began.

Pence has had access to all the closed-door testimonies of officials speaking on Trump’s actions, US–Ukraine relations, and the controversial phone call between Trump and the Ukrainian president, which sparked the official impeachment investigation.

Oopsie! This morning on Fox News, Judge Andrew Napolitano explained the morning idiots how Congressional investigations work. Trump will be furious!

Republicans keep complaining about the impeachment process, but they shy away from trying to defend Trump on the content of the testimony because, as the NYT editorial board writes, what Trump did in the Ukraine scandal is impossible to defend. The most damaging testimony so far has come from Ambassador Bill Taylor, a career diplomat and public servant who refused to be sucked into Trump’s conspiracy with the three amigos, Gordon Sondland, Kurt Volker, and Rick Perry.

From Robert Makey at The Intercept: Trump Pressed Ukraine’s President to Act Out a Fake News Script, Live on CNN.

Before agreeing to release nearly $400 million in military assistance to Ukraine, President Donald Trump extorted a promise from his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, to appear on American television and act out a script prepared for him by Trump’s aides, the top American diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, told the House impeachment inquiry on Tuesday.

The Road to Borre, 1905, Edvard Munch

The scene a desperate Zelensky finally agreed to perform would have been the very definition of fake news: a dramatic announcement by the Ukrainian president, during a CNN interview, that he was opening criminal investigations on Joe Biden’s family and other Democrats.

The plot, which would have duped American voters into believing that there was some substance to a debunked conspiracy theory about Biden’s work in Ukraine as vice president, came very close to working.

Taylor testified that:

until early September, Zelensky and his aides had resisted pressure from Trump to help him smear Biden. Zelensky was supposed to do this by investigating Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company the former vice president’s son Hunter was once paid to advise, as well as claims that Ukrainian officials had revealed evidence of financial crimes by Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort in 2016 to help elect Hillary Clinton.

But once the Ukrainians became aware that the much-needed security assistance Trump had personally held up might never be delivered, Zelensky, who was an actor and comedian before entering politics this year, agreed to play his part in a ruse intended to lend credibility to baseless conspiracy theories about Biden and other Democrats.

Landscape Near Skøyen, Edvard Munch

By the first week of September, Taylor said, the “favor” Trump had alluded to in vague terms in a July phone call with Zelensky had become a very specific demand: Ukraine’s president, a former actor, would be required to deliver lines on CNN prepared for him by two American diplomats acting on orders from Trump and his shadow secretary of state, Rudy Giuliani.

Text messages released earlier this month between those two diplomats — Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union — show that they drafted language for Zelensky’s statement in August to send to the Ukrainian president’s close friend and personal aide, Andrey Yermak.

Head over to The Intercept to read the rest.

Abigail Tracy at Vanity Fair: “The Walls Are Closing In”: Bill Taylor’s Testimony Puts Trump’s Impeachment In Overdrive.

In this story, Ukraine is an object,” Taylor told lawmakers in his opening statement Tuesday.

Over the course of more than nine hours, he meticulously outlined Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into publicly announcing investigations into Hunter Biden, the former vice president’s son, and an unfounded conspiracy theory that Ukraine framed Russia for election meddling in 2016. And Taylor confirmed that the White House made these investigations a precondition for the release of nearly $400 million in military aid to help Ukraine counter an ongoing Russian invasion—the quid pro quo Trump and his allies have been denying since the story broke.

“This was a game changer,” a senior Democratic congressional aide told me. “Ambassador Taylor looks like he’ll end up being the star witness for the prosecution in this impeachment trial of a mob boss president. He not only exposed the full scope of corruption in the White House, but he left no doubt that President Trump was deliberately extorting a foreign country to try and get them to interfere on his behalf in the 2020 election. The president has to know the walls are closing in.”

Another landscape with train smoke by Edvard Munch, 1900

Trump and his lackeys are attacking Taylor as “a radical,” but that won’t hold water.

Taylor, who was appointed ambassador to Ukraine by Republican President George W. Bush, kept meticulous, contemporaneous notes of his interactions with Sondland and other Trump officials as the Ukraine scandal came into focus. “He wrote it all down: This is what happened, this is what I was thinking at the time, and this is what happened next,” said a former high-ranking State Department official who knows Taylor well. “That is part of the whole deal; it is part of the job to have notes on every conversation.”

A highly credible witness, in other words. And hardly the “radical” bureaucrat that Trump officials are trying to claim. “He does have a reputation for being a very straight-up decent guy,” a second former high-ranking State Department official told me. “You can take his words seriously. He’s not prone to dramatics or exaggeration.”

Trump has led a war against long-term, non-political employees of the CIA, FBI, DOJ, and State Department beginning before his election, and now those anonymous federal employees are getting their revenge.

The New York Times: Trump’s War on the ‘Deep State’ Turns Against Him.

Nameless, faceless and voiceless, the C.I.A. officer who first triggered the greatest threat to President Trump’s tenure in office seemed to be practically the embodiment of the “deep state” that the president has long accused of trying to take him down.

But over the last three weeks, the deep state has emerged from the shadows in the form of real live government officials, past and present, who have defied a White House attempt to block cooperation with House impeachment investigators and provided evidence that largely backs up the still-anonymous whistle-blower.

Landscape By Travemünde, Edvard Munch

The parade of witnesses marching to Capitol Hill culminated this week with the dramatic testimony of William B. Taylor Jr., a military officer and diplomat who has served his country for 50 years. Undaunted by White House pressure, he came forward to accuse the same president who sent him to Ukraine a few months ago of abusing his power to advance his own political interests.

The House impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump’s efforts to force Ukraine to investigate Democrats is the climax of a 33-month scorched-earth struggle between a president with no record of public service and the government he inherited but never trusted. If Mr. Trump is impeached by the House, it will be in part because of some of the same career professionals he has derided as “absolute scum” or compared to Nazis.

“With all the denigration and disparagement and diminishment, I think you are seeing some payback here, not by design but by opportunity,” said Representative Gerald E. Connolly, a Democrat from Washington’s Virginia suburbs who represents many federal employees. “It’s almost karmic justice. All of a sudden, there’s an opportunity for people who know things to speak out, speak up, testify about and against — and they’re doing so.”

Read the rest at the NYT, even though they should have at least put quotes around the term “deep state” in the story.

And soon–probably in November–the impeachment hearings will go public. The Washington Post reports:

House Democrats are preparing to move their largely private impeachment inquiry onto a more public stage as soon as mid-November and are already grappling with how best to present the complex Ukraine saga to the American people….

Moonlight, Edvard Munch

Among the witnesses Democrats hope to question in open session are the acting ambassador to Ukraine, William B. Taylor Jr., and his predecessor, former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. Both are seasoned diplomats who, in earlier House testimony, effectively conveyed outrage over a White House plan to withhold much-needed military aid from Ukraine, a long-standing ally battling pro-Russian separatists….

Another top priority for many Democrats is John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, who made known around the White House his visceral opposition to the campaign to pressure Zelensky, a campaign directed in part by Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani.

Testimony from Bolton could be particularly devastating for the White House, though it was unclear whether Democrats would subpoena him or when. After Bolton resigned last month, he told The Washington Post that he would “have my say in due course.”’

Democrats have long been expected to shift to public hearings, which offer the opportunity to build the case against Trump while also building support among American voters.

Click on the WaPo link to read the rest.

Who knows what horrors today will bring? What are you reading and what are you doing for self-care? I’m still mostly escaping into books, but looking at paintings helps a lot too. Yesterday I explored landscapes by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch.


Tuesday Reads: Democratic Debate and Trump’s Troubles

David Hockney, Woldgate Woods, 2008

Good Morning!!

The latest Democratic debate airs on CNN tonight at 8PM. You can read about what to expect in this piece at Vox.

Sorry to be a wet blanket, but I have to admit that I’m far from enthused about watching it, although I’ll try to give it a chance. I’m sick of the irrelevant candidates like Andrew Yang, Tulsi Gabbard, and Tom Steyer; and as for the top three–Biden, Warren, and Sanders–I still believe they are too old for the job.

If we are going to have a septuagenarian president, I would rather have it be Hillary. I guess I have to face the fact that I’ll never be as excited about a candidate as I was about her.

Another issue with tonight’s debate is the Biden campaign’s decision to allow Hunter Biden to participate in an ABC News interview today.

From The Daily Beast: Biden’s Rivals Are Utterly Perplexed at the Timing of Hunter’s Interview.

After months of staying silent amid an avalanche of attacks by President Trump and his team, Hunter Biden, son of the former vice president, made his first public comments in an interview Tuesday morning just about 12 hours before his father takes the debate stage Tuesday night.

Wassily Kandinsky, Autumn in Murnau, 1908

For the majority of the Democrats running for president, and even one notable surrogate to Joe Biden himself, there is a sense of confusion as to why Hunter is choosing now to finally speak up about the extent of his business ties in Ukraine and China.

“I wouldn’t have put Hunter on the air,” former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a top surrogate for Biden, told The Daily Beast. “I think the more you respond, the more you’re playing into Donald Trump.” [….]

For Team Biden, Hunter’s Biden’s interview, which aired on ABC News’ Good Morning America, was an opportunity to clear the air and turn the attention back to the widespread corruption running rampant in the Trump White House. It also gave the younger Biden a chance to present facts in his own words to counter Trump’s misinformation campaign.

In the interview, he admitted that he had shown “poor judgment” in taking the job with a Ukrainian natural gas company but insisted that he had done nothing unethical.

Does anyone believe that the debate moderators will ignore all this and focus on Donald Trump and his children’s blatant self-dealing? I don’t.

Meanwhile, Trump is burning down the post-WWII world order. That should be the subject of tonight’s debate, not Hunter Biden.

Edward Hopper, October on Cape Cod

Fred Kaplan at Slate: Trump’s Worst Betrayal Yet.

President Trump didn’t make a “mistake” in pulling troops out of northeastern Syria last week, as many have charged. It’s what he has long wanted to do. The mistake was not understanding—and, more to the point, not caring about—the consequences.

Trump’s fateful phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Oct. 6, giving him the green light to cross the Syrian border and crush the Kurds without U.S. resistance, did more than any single act has ever done to demolish the post-WWII global order and isolate America from the rest of the world. This, again, has been Trump’s goal since he entered the White House.

Until recently, one or more of his advisers—Jim Mattis, H.R.
McMaster, John Bolton, or Gen. Joseph Dunford—obstructed or dissuaded him from withdrawing. Now all of those advisers are gone, and their replacements lack either the clout or the gumption to push back.

Trump may believe that he’s doing the right thing, that abandoning the rest of the world’s problems will “make America great again.” He doesn’t realize that America’s might and wealth depend, in large measure, on the cooperation it receives from others—either offered or coerced—in pursuing its interests around the world.

He is also blind to the fact—or loath to admit—that he, in fact, is not getting out of the world. On Friday, days after abandoning the Kurdish allies to the Turks (and consequently, all of Syria to Bashar al-Assad and the Russians), Trump announced that he was sending 1,800 troops to Saudi Arabia. But to Trump’s mind, there was a big difference in this deployment.
“Saudi Arabia, at my request, has agreed to pay us for everything we are doing to help them,” he told reporters. “That’s a first. We appreciate that.”

Georgia O’Kefee, Autumn Leaves, 1924

To Trump, the U.S. military is nothing more than a mercenary force to be rented out to the highest bidder.

It was as if sending American troops abroad doesn’t count as a commitment if taxpayers don’t have to pay for it. It was as if Trump were telling the world that the U.S. military is now a mercenary force. It was a message to any country currently hosting American troops at least in part at our largesse—because, say, previous presidents have considered it in U.S.
interests to keep troops there—that they should start rethinking their options for how to stay secure

Trump has made a practice of abrogating treaties, filching on commitments, and alienating allies, but, more than any single act, the betrayal of the Kurds should tell everyone that—as long as Trump is president and, who knows, perhaps beyond—there is no reason to trust the United States on anything.

I hope you’ll go read the rest at Slate.

From Axios, here’s a quote from deep thinker Trump on abandoning the Kurds:

“Anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte.” read one of the president’s tweets. “I hope they all do great, we are 7,000 miles away!”

He doesn’t seem at all concerned about getting U.S. troops out of Syria safely or getting our nukes out of Turkey.

Trump even tried to blame the Kurds for the release of Islamic State prisoners. From The Week:

It appears that President Trump was a bit off the mark Monday morning when he tweeted a theory that Kurdish forces were releasing prisoners with ties to the Islamic State in an attempt to get the U.S. to continue fighting alongside them. Trump’s suspicions were likely derived from the fact that the Kurds, longtime U.S. allies in the Middle East, were disappointed in Washington for removing U.S. troops from the region, providing Turkey — which considers Kurdish forces a national security threat — an opening to invade.

Gustav Klimt, Birch Forest I, 1902

U.S. officials have said that prisoners with ISIS ties are being deliberately released, but it’s actually Turkish proxy forces in the Free Syrian Army — a decentralized rebel group that has been linked to extremists groups and was once recruited by the CIA to aid the U.S. in its fight against ISIS — who are behind it, rather than the Kurds, Foreign Policy reports. The Free Syrian Army has also been accused of executing Kurdish prisoners and killing unarmed civilians.

As for the Kurds, one U.S. official said the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have not abandoned or released any prisoners with ISIS ties and, in some cases, the SDF has reportedly moved detainees to other facilities further south.

Subsequently, Trump’s theory is not sitting well with U.S. and Kurdish forces. “That has enraged our forces in Syria,” another senior U.S. administration official said. “Kurds are still defending our bases. Incredibly reckless and dishonest thing to say.”

Yesterday, Trump’s former Russia and Ukraine adviser Fiona Hill testified at the Impeachment hearings. Here’s the latest on that.

The Washington Post: Trump’s ex-Russia adviser told impeachment investigators of Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine.

Fiona Hill, the White House’s former top Russia adviser, told impeachment investigators on Monday that Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, ran a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine that circumvented U.S. officials and career diplomats in order to personally benefit President Trump, according to people familiar with her testimony.

Hill, who served as the senior official for Russia and Europe on the National Security Council, was the latest witness in a fast-moving impeachment inquiry focused on whether the president abused his office by using the promise of military aid and diplomatic support to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political rivals.

Henri Rousseau, Eiffel Tower at Sunset, 1910

In a closed-door session that lasted roughly 10 hours, Hill told lawmakers that she confronted Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, about Giuliani’s activities which, she testified, were not coordinated with the officials responsible for carrying out U.S. foreign policy, these people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to disclose details of her deposition.

Sondland played a leading role in the Trump administration’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to open investigations of the president’s political rivals, text messages obtained and later released by House Democrats show. Three congressional committees are now probing how Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, as well as a debunked theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election in an attempt to damage Trump’s candidacy.

Sondland plans to testify on Thursday and the Committees are now talking about questioning John Bolton.

The New York Times: Bolton Objected to Ukraine Pressure Campaign, Calling Giuliani ‘a Hand Grenade.’

The effort to pressure Ukraine for political help provoked a heated confrontation inside the White House last summer that so alarmed John R. Bolton, then the national security adviser, that he told an aide to alert White House lawyers, House investigators were told on Monday.

Mr. Bolton got into a tense exchange on July 10 with Gordon D. Sondland, the Trump donor turned ambassador to the European Union, who was working with Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, to press Ukraine to investigate Democrats, according to three people who heard the testimony.

Paul Gauguin, Landscape in Arles near the Alyscamps, 1888

The aide, Fiona Hill, testified that Mr. Bolton told her to notify the chief lawyer for the National Security Council about a rogue effort by Mr. Sondland, Mr. Giuliani and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, according to the people familiar with the testimony.

“I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up,” Mr. Bolton, a Yale-trained lawyer, told Ms. Hill to tell White House lawyers, according to two people at the deposition. (Another person in the room initially said Mr. Bolton referred to Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Mulvaney, but two others said he cited Mr. Sondland.)

Read the rest at the NYT.

Finally, The Daily Beast reports that Trump Suspects a Spiteful John Bolton Is Behind Some of the Ukraine Leaks.

In recent weeks, numerous leaks have appeared in the pages of The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other major papers and news outlets detailing the president’s attempts to enlist foreign leaders to help dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden and also aid Trump’s quest to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s concluded investigation. And as is his MO, the media-obsessed president has been fixated on not just the identity of the whistleblower behind the internal complaint that brought this scandal to the fore, but also on who, exactly, has been namelessly feeding intel to the press.

In the course of casual conversations with advisers and friends, President Trump has privately raised suspicions that a spiteful John Bolton, his notoriously hawkish former national security adviser, could be one of the sources behind the flood of leaks against him, three people familiar with the comments said. At one point, one of those sources recalled, Trump guessed that Bolton was behind one of the anonymous accounts that listed the former national security adviser as one of the top officials most disturbed by the Ukraine-related efforts of Trump and Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney who remains at the center of activities that spurred the impeachment inquiry.

What else is happening? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread.


Lazy Caturday Reads: The Mushrooming Ukraine Scandal

Three Kittens Sitting & Watching by Jean-Louis Klein & Marie-Luce Hubert, Cyclades, Greece

Good Afternoon!!

The Ukraine scandal is unwinding into a massive conspiracy. Rudy Giuliani is in big trouble and the mob boss in the White House is on the verge of throwing him under the bus. The White House is struggling to deal with the tsunami of bad news–they once again sent out their Ukraine talking points to Democrats, according to The Hill.

Here’s what’s happening.

The New York Times: Giuliani Is Said to Be Under Investigation for Ukraine Work.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating whether President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani broke lobbying laws in his dealings in Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the inquiry.

The investigators are examining Mr. Giuliani’s efforts to undermine the American ambassador to Ukraine, Marie L. Yovanovitch, one of the people said. She was recalled in the spring as part of Mr. Trump’s broader campaign to pressure Ukraine into helping his political prospects.

The investigation into Mr. Giuliani is tied to the case against two of his associates who were arrested this week on campaign finance-related charges, the people familiar with the inquiry said. The associates were charged with funneling illegal contributions to a congressman whose help they sought in removing Ms. Yovanovitch.

Mr. Giuliani has denied wrongdoing, but he acknowledged that he and the associates worked with Ukrainian prosecutors to collect potentially damaging information about Ms. Yovanovitch and other targets of Mr. Trump and his allies, including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his younger son, Hunter Biden. Mr. Giuliani shared that material this year with American government officials and a Trump-friendly columnist in an effort to undermine the ambassador and other Trump targets.

Trump advisers are pushing him to throw Rudy overboard, according to Politico.

Black Cat on a Windowsill, Korovin Konstantin

For weeks, prominent Republican advisers have been privately imploring President Donald Trump to sideline Rudy Giuliani after a barrage of inconsistent, combative and occasionally cringe-inducing media interviews, according to three people familiar with the conversations.

And that was before the arrest of two foreign-born businessmen who reportedly helped Giuliani try to discredit former Vice President Joe Biden, the leading Democrat to take on Trump in next year’s election. Several reports have indicated Giuliani himself may be caught up in the probe.

Yet Trump remains linked to Giuliani, who was initially hired to help fend of Robert Mueller’s Russia investigators, but who now may have pulled the president into another investigation — one that might lead to impeachment. While the president has long appreciated Giuliani’s pugnacious and never-back-down attitude, Trump allies fear Giuliani will damage Trump with his long-winded monologues and free-wheeling accusations.

The constant sniping from staff could ultimately force Trump to dump his long-valued fixer, as he has done with former personal lawyer Michael Cohen and countless other ousted officials, like ex-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former chief strategist Steve Bannon.

“Rudy Giuliani needs to stop talking,” said a former campaign official who remains close to Trump’s team.

Trump claims he doesn’t know Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, the two Ukrainian “businessmen” who were arrested on Wednesday night as they tried to flee to Vienna on one way tickets. Unfortunately for Trump, he has been photographed with the two thugs; and Parnas actually attended Trump’s private party celebrating his 2016 election.

Politico: Indicted Giuliani associate attended private ‘16 election night party for ‘friend’ Trump.

Buster Keaton in Electric House, 1922

Lev Parnas described himself to a foreign correspondent at the cash-bar event in midtown Manhattan as a friend of the president-elect who didn’t live far from his South Florida winter home.

Parnas arrived at Trump’s November 2016 election night party, which was held in a ballroom at the Midtown Hilton, with two other men in suits and their heavily made-up wives, according to a forgotten but newly relevant dispatch from the event published at the time in Le Figaro, France’s oldest daily newspaper.

The Ukrainian-born businessman told the paper that a friend from his hometown of Boca Raton, Fla., had hosted several fundraising events for Trump and that his daughter had traveled around the state singing on the candidate’s behalf. It is not clear what friend Parnas was referring to.

“We are confident,” Parnas, told the newspaper, “America wants a change.” The newspaper described Parnas as an insurer. (Parnas co-founded a company, Fraud Guarantee, that at some point retained Giuliani as a lawyer.)

I posted this one in the comments yesterday, but it bears repeating. Reuters: Indicted Giuliani associate worked on behalf of Ukrainian oligarch Firtash.

One of the two Florida businessmen who helped U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal attorney investigate his political rival, Democrat Joe Biden, also has been working for the legal team of a Ukrainian oligarch who faces bribery charges in the United States, according to attorneys for the businessmen and the oligarch.

Lev Parnas, one of the two associates of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, served as a translator for lawyers representing oligarch Dmytro Firtash. Parnas was arrested on Thursday along with the other Florida businessman, Igor Fruman, on unrelated charges that included illegally funneling $325,000 to a political action committee supporting pro-Trump candidates.

The Barn Cat by Ron McGinnnis

Both men had worked in an unspecified capacity for Firtash before Parnas joined the Ukrainian’s legal team, according to a person familiar with the Florida men’s business dealings with Firtash….

Firtash, one of Ukraine’s wealthiest businessmen, is battling extradition by U.S. authorities on bribery charges from Vienna, where he has lived for five years.

Federal prosecutors in Illinois said in court papers in 2017 that Firtash was an “upper-echelon” associate of Russian organized crime. He was indicted in 2013 and charged with bribing Indian officials for access to titanium mines. Firtash has denied any wrongdoing.

Firtash was “financing” the activities of Parnas and Fruman, the source familiar with their business dealings said. The source did not detail their specific work for the oligarch or how much money he had paid them and over what period.

Firtash’s attorneys are Joe DiGenova and Victoria Toensing, who also have been working for Trump. Parnas and Fruman are being represented by former Trump attorney John Dowd.

I’ll be honest, I’m still trying to sort all these stories out. It’s kind of like reading a Russian novel–it’s difficult to keep all the names straight. I’m just sharing the latest news I’ve read.

CBS San Francisco reports on another arrest in the SDNY Ukraine/Giuliani investigation: Ukrainian Andrey Kukushkin, Linked To Giuliani Associates, Arrested In San Francisco On Campaign Finance Violations.

Andrey Kukushkin, 46, is one of four people named in a grand jury indictment announced Thursday by U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman of the Southern District of New York.

The others, all Florida residents, include two associates of presidential lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Ukrainian-born Lev Parnas, 47, and Belarus-born Igor Fruman, 54, and a fourth defendant, David Correia, who was born in the United States. The four men are all U.S. citizens….

From The Circus, Merna Kennedy and Charlie Chaplin, 1928

Kukushkin was arrested in San Francisco Thursday morning, according to William Sweeney, assistant chief of the FBI’s New York field office. He made an initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Jacqueline Scott Corley in San Francisco and was ordered to be held in custody until a detention hearing on Friday, according to court records.

He is expected to be transferred to New York at a later date to face the charges there.

All four defendants are accused of conspiring in a scheme to disguise contributions of $10,000 each to two Nevada state office candidates from an unnamed Russian businessman who wanted to obtain licenses for marijuana businesses. Federal law prohibits campaign contributions from foreign nationals.

Everyone is trying to find out who the unnamed “Russian businessman” in the SNDY indictment is. David Corn speculates at Mother Jones: Who’s the Secret Russian in the Indictment of Giuliani’s Pals? We Found Some Clues.

Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman—who had been helping Giuliani search for dirt on Joe Biden and the Democrats in Ukraine—and David Correia and Andrey Kukushkin, who were each identified as businessmen, were charged in what seems to be overlapping capers. Parnas and Fruman allegedly made secret donations to Republicans in an effort to advance their business interests and promote the agenda of one or more Ukrainian officials (which included firing the US ambassador to Ukraine). And these two Giuliani confederates also teamed up with Correia, a business partner of Parnas, and Kukushkin and allegedly made donations secretly financed by a Russian national to Republican candidates for state offices in Nevada to buy influence they could use to set up a cannabis business there. This Russian, who would be part of their legal marijuana venture, sent $1 million from overseas accounts to Fruman that was to be used for contributions to federal and state candidates in Nevada and other states, according to the indictment. It’s illegal for a foreigner to funnel donations to US candidates.

Painting by Mischa Askenazy, 1888-1961

The mystery: Who is this wealthy Russian who allegedly tried to make illegal contributions to US politicians in pursuit of launching a cannabis venture?

The indictment does not say. It refers to this individual only as “Foreign National-1.” And the question cannot be yet answered definitively. But California state records and emails obtained by Mother Jones indicate that a Russian businessman named Andrey Muraviev had previously worked with Kukushkin to develop a cannabis enterprise.

It’s complicated so if you’re interested, head over to Mother Jones and read all about it.

NBC News has a scoop on the ousting of former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch: Lutsenko is the Ukrainian official who prosecutors say urged 2 Giuliani associates to push for the ouster of Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador.

The unnamed Ukrainian official referenced in a federal indictment as directing a plot to oust the then-U.S. ambassador is Ukraine’s former chief prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko, according to a U.S. official familiar with the events.

According to the source, Lutsenko is the Ukrainian official who prosecutors say urged two associates of Rudy Giuliani to push for the removal of Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was forced out in May.

The associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were arrested Wednesday night as they prepared to board a one-way flight out of the country at Dulles Airport near Washington, D.C.

Painting by Peter Adderley

“They sought political influence not only to advance their own financial interests, but to advance the political interests of at least one foreign official ⁠— a Ukrainian government official who sought the dismissal of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine,” Geoffrey Berman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said at a Thursday news conference.

The indictment says the efforts by Parnas and Fruman to remove then-Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, a respected diplomat with deep knowledge of Ukraine, were “conducted, at least in part, at the request of one or more Ukrainian government officials.”

Read the rest at NBC News. Lutsenko is the prosecutor that Trump urged Ukraine’s President Zelinsky not to fire in the July 25th phone call.

One more from Foreign Policy: Pompeo’s State Department Reels as Impeachment Inquiry Sinks Morale.

The fast-moving impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump has dragged the State Department into the center of the scandal and further wrecked morale at Foggy Bottom, presenting a stress test for how Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will balance his relationship with America’s diplomats against his relationship with the president.

The ever-expanding probe into the Trump administration’s apparent efforts to coerce foreign governments into digging up dirt on political rivals has even lower-level State Department officials wondering if they, too, need to lawyer up, with the foreign service officers’ union starting a legal defense fund for career officials caught in the impeachment crossfire.

The latest State Department drama came on Friday as Marie Yovanovitch—a decorated career diplomat forced out of her job as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in May following a pressure campaign from Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and his now indicted associates—testified before Congress. The White House sought to ban her voluntary testimony, but she went ahead after a subpoena from the House of Representatives.

Some nine current and former officials said many in the State Department are shocked and angry that Pompeo did little to shield her. No senior State Department official, including Pompeo, defended Yovanovitch as she was thrust into the spotlight amid the impeachment scandal. The State Department, again at the behest of the White House, also blocked the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, from testifying before Congress on Tuesday, though his lawyer said Friday that he will testify next week.

“You don’t get credit for saying something about swagger, then caving the first time you get heat,” said Daniel Fried, who served as assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs under former President George W. Bush, referring to Pompeo’s promise last year to restore the State Department’s “swagger.”

Read more at FP.

I have no doubt there will be more news breaking this weekend and I can’t wait! What do you think?